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Longevity Briefs: Breaking Free of the Traditional Views of Aging

Posted on 16 November 2020

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: From a traditional perspective, aging is an inevitable part of the natural order of things that we should not resist.

“Aging is not a disease, but rather a normal and natural process.” — an opinion that all aging researchers have come across in their lives.

However, in the last couple of centuries, science has drastically reformed the way in which we look at the natural world, and has swept away the traditional viewpoints of many different areas. However, aging is a concept that these outdated beliefs stubbornly seem to stick to.

Among some researchers in the aging field, there is belief that a central aging process exists (see section C of the figure below). If we could intervene in this process we might achieve full protection against all age-related conditions. However, is this also an outdated concept?

What did the researchers do: In 2015, Professor David Gems, a biogerontologist based at University College London, UK, published an essay titled “The aging-disease false dichotomy: understanding senescence as pathology“, tackling these two points. Aiming to foster a realistic understanding of aging by scrutinizing ideas old and new, Prof. Gems explores the traditional view in which many believe aging to be a benign and wholesome process that shouldn’t be tampered with. He also looks at the biogerontological utopia of a central aging process.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Prof. Gems states that neglect caused by a lack of understanding of aging can lead to preventable illness now, and into the future, as aging interventions are most effective when practiced proactively.  It is important that people wake up to the new science of aging.

He goes on to argue that the utopian view of finding a central aging process may lead us to needlessly disregarding some effective interventions that only tackle one aspect of aging, for example: sun-block or aspirin.

In his conclusion Prof. Gems states that…

To achieve the best outcomes in terms of the future health of older people, it is vital to adopt a frank and rational attitude to aging. We must draw aside the rosy veil of tradition and face aging for what it is, and in all its horror: the greatest disease of them all.

Aging as a cause of age-related disease: different models. (A,B), derived from Peto and Doll (1997)(A) There is no aging process, only individual diseases of aging. (B) A few diseases of aging may have shared mechanisms, (C) A central aging process causes diseases of aging; the utopian view. (D) Mixed model, based on recent findings and concepts. Some pathways (e.g., target of rapamycin/insulin/IGF-1 signaling, Tor/IIS) promote many pathologies, including a number that limit healthspan and lifespan. But this does not mean that Tor/IIS controls the aging process, only part of it. Source: The aging-disease false dichotomy: understanding senescence as pathology

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